10 Questions with Andrew Cameron

<p>Andrew Cameron, author of <em>A Nurse on the Edge of the Desert</em></p>

Andrew Cameron, author of A Nurse on the Edge of the Desert

1. Now that it is published, what pleases you most about your book?

Many times when I have recounted stories to various people, about some of the strange and unusual incidents from my past, a common response has been, ‘You should write a book about that someday Andrew, truly you should!’ After a while I had some half-hearted efforts at writing about these experiences and along the way I stopped many times because when I noted down some of the more painful episodes, it brought back those same dark feelings, as if I were in the actual moment again. But now, even if it is a bit funny and a bit sad in places, it is done. Also, one of the things which most thrills me over this whole book-writing process is to have met Dr John McCrystal (he is too modest to be titled Dr on the book cover, but he is a PhD and so I have given him his full dues here) to whom I was introduced in 2016 as a man of letters, and who helped me put the manuscript together. He is a literary wizard, and with his skill of winnowing the wheat from the chaff, was a remarkable catalyst in making the story flow.


2. Did the opportunity to reflect on your career come at a good time for you?

Yes, you could say that. I trained as a nurse in a very different era than what they do today and so I think it is nice to have a kind of record of what life as a nurse was like then . . . before all the technology arrived and distracted half the world from the real business of getting on with their lives. Moreover, I am in a really good paddock at the moment, with my position in Birdsville, and it has been a great opportunity to be on the spot in that unique location where the writing process was set to in earnest.


3. Were you surprised by how much you could remember? And perhaps also by how much you had forgotten?

Well, I’ve kept a journal for many years (on and off) and therefore this was not such a difficult problem to solve. Over the passage of time, our memories can play funny tricks on us and we are apt to forget some things completely and to distort, or even fantastically embellish, others (like the old man in the rocking chair who recounts heroic war stories which become more aggrandised each time his grandchildren listen to them. So it was fortunate to have made records on the spot so as to prevent such discrepancies.


4. You have spent a lot of time in outback Australia, which many people would regard as a pretty demanding place to live in. What draws you back to it?

The ghastly thought of sitting in a traffic jam on the Hutt Motorway or on Karangahape Road on the daily commute to work is what draws me back to those distant places. Seriously, though, life is about taking opportunities as they arise. I think I have become OK with what I do in my field, and so the health authorities keep asking me to come back out to the never-never, and I keep saying yes. You can meet some very interesting characters out there, and have some memorable experiences, so I have been making the most of that.


5. Tell me why I should one day come to the Birdsville Races?

Even if you are not into horse racing per se, I think many people would just simply enjoy the fabulous nature of the event – one of Australia’s longest-running horse races (it has been held annually since the 1880s), together with the ambience, the intensity, the vastness and stillness of the desert; the infinite, seemingly endless horizons and so on. And of course if you are a nurse or a doctor, you’d get a guided tour (while I am there at least) through the famous Birdsville Clinic and would see how things are done in such a remote place.


6. Do you sometimes reflect on the chance encounter that drew you into nursing, and what a happy accident that was?

Oh yes, I often reflect on that. Right at the start I met this delightful fellow by the name of Wayne Bryce (still a practising nurse in Australia, so I believe), and he soon dispelled any thoughts in my mind that it might be a ‘for girls only’ kind of occupation. And then I got into the thick of it and just went on from there.


7. On a scale one to ten, how would you rate the nursing profession?

Probably about a seven. It has been good to me, but the profession has many problems as well. It seems like the better clinician you become, the more they want to ‘reward’ you by putting you on a big salary to sit behind a desk where you might seldom even see a patient. To my humble way of thinking, this defeats the purpose of the whole exercise. Who was it that said, ‘Those who can’t do, teach. And those who can’t teach, become school principals’? Well, it’s a bit the same with nursing. Jesting aside, I think it is a great profession where you can learn a lot about mankind and when you lay your head on the pillow at night, you can say to yourself, ‘I did something useful for someone else today.’


8. What sort of a person makes a great nurse?

The best nurses I have met are those who show the human qualities of kindness, compassion and a genuine desire to assist those in need. That’s the brunt of it. And in an emergency they take their own pulse first, so to speak, rather than going in with all guns blazing and forgetting the basics. The best nurses help each other and pat each other on the back over any personal or clinical successes they might have had, rather than looking for mistakes.


9. What would you now say to the Colenso High School teachers who didn’t give you UE accredited?

Well, that was a long time ago and is all water under the bridge. Some of them relished in schadenfreude I am quite certain of that . . . one or two of them at least. Anyway, as Mum used to say, ‘It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good’ and some good things came out of it. And you know, it’s not good for the soul to bear any malice toward such people. I’d probably say to them (those who aren’t resting in their graves already), ‘Come on, old dear, let’s go to the Birdsville pub for a beer.’


10. What are you reading at the moment?

I tend to go back to some of the older books. At the moment Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome, which always makes me laugh out loud. This is good if you’re in a bad situation – in the war, for example, such an entertaining tale can cheer you up no end. Archy and Mehitabel is another very amusing story. And I love the way Thomas Hardy puts his words on the page. The Woodlanders, although not humorous at all, is one of my favourites.